Providence used to be a more interesting theater town back before its off-Trinity mainstays, 2nd Story Theatre and the Gamm, moved up and over to Pawtucket and Warren, respectively.
Both 2nd Story and the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre keep turning out Trinity-level productions for those communities — and for theater-lovers who don't suffer from that peculiar Rhode Island aversion to leaving town.
The ratio of actors to ticket-buyers has always been encouraging, since many graduates of the Trinity Repertory Company training program stick around or return. In fact, the Gamm started out in Providence as Alias Stage, founded by Trinity Rep Conservatory students.
All of which is to point out that there is another first-rate theater company in town that is often overlooked. There are regular seasons of plays presented by the Brown University/Trinity Rep Consortium, the successor to the conservatory.
Since the Phoenix reviews plays only if they're up long enough for readers to attend after publication, Consortium productions with short runs do not get written about. Some of them, though, have been among the best plays in their seasons. Their Hedda Gabler was a highlight of 2007.
This month we have Charles Mee's Full Circle (December 10-15), based on Bertolt Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle. That will be followed by Lanford Wilson's The Hot L Baltimore (February 5-8), a humorous character drama about residents of a building about to be condemned and torn down. The Maids, by Jean Genet, is about two maids who take turns role-reversing as master and servant; the two-weekend run (February 27-March 8) will be reviewed here. Finally, Shakespeare's The Tempest will shake the rafters from April 30 to May 3.
All will be staged in the Pell Chafee Performance Center. Most will be directed as MFA directing thesis projects, and one will be guest-directed by a Consortium alumnus.
Consortium student Jesse Geiger ('09) chose to direct Full Circle because it combines all the elements that he's interested in creating on the stage. It requires that he weave together several different stylistic ideas into one seamless piece.
"You have moments that are musical comedy, almost like a farce, and moments of drama, all in one play," he says. "So you really have to do everything in one production, which is fun for me. I was actually a huge musical theater buff growing up, but I've never directed a musical."
Brecht's 1944 The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a socialist allegory, done in his non-realistic epic style. It tells the story of a girl who steals a baby but becomes a better caretaker than the child's parents were. Mee's adaptation comments on the original Marxist message. It takes place at the fall of the Berlin Wall and suggests that capitalism is an equally complicated, potentially abusive replacement.
"I love that Full Circle is a play that embraces complexity and wants you to view the world more for what it is, even when you're trying to see it as you would have it be," Geiger says. "The person who triumphs isn't the completely idealistic one, isn't the completely self-absorbed one, it's the woman who says, 'Look, I think that things could be better than they are, but I also see the way the world is, and I'll use my knowledge of the way the world is to make it better.' "